December has arrived and no doubt, many of you will have spent time this past weekend, putting up the Christmas tree and decorating the house with baubles and tinsel. That 'twelve days before and twelve days after' rule seems to be thrown out of the window these days. But what the hell, eh? If your neighbour is out there, in the pouring rain, hooking up their festive illuminations on the front of their house; then you've damn well got to get out there and make sure your gigantic, inflatable Santa Claus - complete with seven, sparkly reindeer - is also assembled in the front garden. For all the world to see. Haven't you?
The reward after such endeavor outside in the elements is (of course) a nip of brandy and a lovely, warmed mince pie by your newly erected tree.
Better still, why not try a couple of slices of Hackin Pudding, fried in butter and doused with warm, boozy cherries. That would be a better bet.
What is a frickin Hackin Pudding though, we hear you ask?
Friends, open your ears, as we've been doing some research and putting in the hours at the British Library.
First of all, you are obviously familiar with the term 'mincemeat' as used in mince pies, yes? And are aware that the meat element comes from the use of shredded suet? Suet being that layer of raw beef (or mutton) fat that surrounds the kidney and loins? Well, Christmas treats and 'puddings' by all accounts used to be far meatier that today's counterparts; when back in the day, mincemeat really did mean 'minced meat'.
As puddings were often symbols of luxury among medieval nobility, it sort of makes sense. You couldn't see Henry VIII simply settling for some steamed breadcrumbs, brandy soaked raisins and candied peel after his wolfing down a roast swan now, could you? He'd want meat, meat and more meat.
Anyway, for a long time, that's how it went. Right up until the 19th century, bar a short period when the Puritans banned meat AND booze in puddings, and everything else (Jaysus).
However, by the end of Queen Victoria's reign, the Christmas Pudding had pretty much evolved into the fruit rich and sumptuous affair that we recognise today. For simple reasons of popularity, mass production and the preservation needed to keep the Christmas Pudding on the shelves, fresh meat fell off the menu.
Which to all of us here at T&G seemed like a crying shame. So, we spent an inordinate amount of time searching in the library looking for an authentic recipe, to replicate and restore the Christmas Pudding to its former glory. And do you think we could find one? Could we jack. Although at this stage, it might be best to own up and say that were actually using Finsbury Library, just down the road from the shop on St Johns Street. And not the actual British Library.
Enter Regula Ysewijn, a Belgian food historian and writer, who knows rather a lot about desserts throughout history. In a desperate attempt, we reached out to her and said 'Can you give us a recipe for a proper, legitimate Christmas Pudding with loads of meat in it?'
Her response was - 'Hmm, to be frank, I would start with Hackin Pudding. It's a Northern delicacy, with roots going back to a range of centuries old recipes that include a combination of meat, spices and oats, all often eaten at Christmas. The incarnation of the Christmas or Plum Pudding is really another matter and it would take me hours and hours to explain the origins and myths. I do believe that it evolved from Hackin pudding though. Given the practice of steaming in cloth and the use of dried fruit and spices like mace. Although in the good old days, they would use animal intestines to hold the mix in, just like haggis. I can give you the recipe for that if you like.'
To which we replied with a resounding - 'Yes! We'll take it!'
The result is curious one, insofar that it messes with modern sensibilities a touch. Think meatloaf but with warm woody notes and bursts of sweetness. As a pairing with turkey, roast pork or say for a naughty treat later on Christmas night, it certainly would be a good side dish to surprise your guests with. You might even consider forgoing the Christmas Pudding and do a full on 'Henry' instead.
We advise that you loosen up your breeches a touch though first.
This recipe is by Regula Ysewijn, from her cookbook - Pride and Pudding: The History of British Puddings, Savoury and Sweet (Murdoch Books).
- Put the minced beef into a bowl with the eggs, drained oatmeal, suet, apple, currants, sugar, mace, allspice, lemon peel and salt and combine into a patty.
- Layer 2 pieces of plastic wrap on a tea towel (dish towel) or pudding cloth. Shape the patty into a ball shape and place in the centre of the plastic wrap.
- Fold the plastic wrap around the ball, then tie into the cloth using kitchen string. Place the pudding in a large saucepan or stock pot of boiling water, tying the pudding to the handle so the pudding doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan.
- Alternatively, place the wrapped pudding in a pudding basin (mould) set on an inverted saucer or jam-jar lid in the bottom of the pan.
- Boil for 2 hours. To serve, cut thick slices and fry in butter, with conserved pitted cherries.
Makes 1 pudding in a 17 cm basin (mould); serves 4–6 people.